A man in blackface in this brave new century would invoke the wrath of our culture writ large. When the tape of a blackfaced act originating in Australia was seen in the United States, the revulsion was immediate, calling to mind Al Jolson singing "Mammy" in blackface nearly a hundred years ago.
But what about seeing a black man in whiteface?
What about seeing a black President of the United States in whiteface?
And what if that insult emanated not from a meaningless talent show down under but from the Republican National Committee's (RNC) official fundraising presentation.
What we have here, thanks to reporting in Politico, is RNC Finance Chairperson Rob Bickhart rallying the faithful in a way that not only mocks Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as the cartoon characters Cruella DeVille and Scooby Do, but also presents President Barack Obama as "The Joker," complete with white makeup and the garish red lips made famous by Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger.
And here's the kicker: under the whiteface Obama is one word: "Socialism."
Is the image racist? I will leave it to the Tea Party and the Publicans to explain how a black President in whiteface is not a racist image. I would pay to hear that and then--socialistically and selfishly--I would send them the bill. They have had to make many such explanations over the first year of the Obama Presidency and this will surely not be the last. I would also ask them to explain Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri's joke about "the monkey problem" in Washington during the Family Research Council's 2009 Values Voter Summit.
As with said monkey, the apologists of the Right will say Obama in whiteface is a parody, that they're poking fun, and perhaps that Joe Louis was a hell of a fighter. But there's really nothing funny about it, is there? It's a hateful, craven image meant to generate fear, a blatantly racist image that any sentient person would be ashamed of, were he or she to belong to a party that had any shame left.